How I Modify Mason’s Streams of Science (forms 3-6)

I mentioned in my last article, that I diverge from Charlotte Mason’s science plan, a bit, starting in form 3. I want to explain why and how I do that.

We Have More Common Information to Deal With

While it was most important to Mason that students come to feel a sense of wonder and admiration for the world, she also felt strongly that it was important for students to acquire scientific literacy – the common information. However, there is more common information to learn today than there was at the turn of the twentieth century. These days we vote on topics such as Stem Cell Research and GMO labeling. With this in mind, we might find some of the books Mason assigned are a little too light to carry us through all of the material we need to cover. We cannot turn to textbooks to cram more information, she was clear about that, but we probably can’t spend a whole year on a book such as The World of Sound by Bragg either. We are going to need to be very deliberate with our choice of books if we want to adhere to Mason’s page count (and word counts) per term but also manage to cover the common information of our day.

We Can’t Fire-Hose our Students with Four Heavy Science Subjects

With that said, I am hearing more and more reports from parents whose kids are feeling burned out by covering three or four difficult science topics each week. Mason assigned a variety of books each week, some light and some harder, but none equal to Chem 101. When we assign a day of each of the big four, we run the risk of overburdening our students.

Consider this example. In the same year that a form 3 students read The World of Sound, they also read half of The Study of Plant Life, a little less than half of Winners In Life’s Race, and three-quarters of The Fairyland of Science. That was all for the whole year! Compare that to four days of today’s physics, chemistry, biology, and earth science. I won’t even touch on the books you might use for those subjects because I don’t think it’s necessary to make the point.

The Popular Science Topics Have Changed

The topics of botany, geology, and astronomy were popular in the 1800s, and after Darwin’s book On the Origin of Species, natural selection, and evolution became popular as well. Mason included a bit of everything that was popular during her time, and I think we can accept that as a principle when deciding what topics we should cover in our schools. At the same time, even though chemistry, physics, formal biology, technology, and engineering are more popular than the earth sciences or general biology today, we still need to present our students with the whole feast. That’s a lot of subjects! We need a plan to adequately cover the common information in all of these subjects.

Students Can Attempt Experiments in Far More Subjects

After form 2, and Holden’s book The Sciences, the only experiments we see assigned to P.U.S. students were in the field of botany. These were quality experiments that crossed disciplines to some extent, so I do not mean to downplay their value. However, Mason was impressed by Holden and the experiments in his book, and she said, “The only sound method of teaching science is to afford a due combination of field or laboratory work, with such literary comments and amplifications as the subject affords.” (A Philosophy of Education, 1925, p. 223) So why didn’t she assign experiments in other fields? My guess is that there were not many books besides Holden’s, written to students to guide them through the process. That is not so today. Our students can look up experiments in any scientific realm as easily as they can look up a recipe for no-bake cookies. But here is the catch, if we are studying several science topics each week, it can be hard to know which subject to draw our experiments from.

Biology is a Far More Robust Subject These Days

After Life and Her Children was completed in form 4 (grade 9,) the study of formal biology was dropped until form 6 (grade 12,) at which time a book about animals was added. Botany was continued until grade 11, and students were still expected to make special studies. That sounds nice, but frankly, there has been a lot of common information amassed in the realm of biology in the last 100 years, and much of it is the common information we are going to be required to know to vote. Therefore, I think we should continue one day a week with some study of biology. After a general survey of the subject, we can choose from any of the following topics: anatomy, biochemistry, health, neuroscience, cell biology, genetics, medical ethics, botany, ecology, evolution, paleontology, zoology and animal behavior, or marine biology. Our choice might be determined by what is important to the family or what is interesting to the student. Either way, after six years of studying various aspects of biology once a week, in addition to special studies, nature walks, and an occasional book of nature lore read during their free time, a student should have a good store of common information.

How I Schedule Science

Due to the above arguments, I limit our science studies to two subjects per term: biology and one other topic. Our experiments are pulled from the reading each week. Then, as each term ends, we switch to a new topic. My students are still studying four topics per year, so I feel good about the feast they are sampling from, but they don’t have all four subjects on their plates at the same time.

Below is a sample schedule for a week of science for students in forms 3-6 (grades 7-12).

Day 1 Day 2 Day 3 Day 4 Day 5
biology
40 min.
other science
40 min.
other science
40 min.
experiment
40 min.
another book
20 min.
(12th grade only)
Men, Microscopes, and Living Things For the Love of Physics For the Love of Physics cont. physics experiment Letters to a Young Scientist
(12th grade only)

If you would like to see how this looks across several years, take a look at the following pages:

Forms 3 (grades 7-8) Two-Year Plan
Forms 4-6 (High School) Four-Year Plan

17 thoughts on “How I Modify Mason’s Streams of Science (forms 3-6)

  1. Pingback: Mason’s Streams of Science | Sabbath Mood Homeschool

  2. Sharyn

    Thank you! I plan to follow you from 7th grade until mine move out. My friend allowed me to look at your astronomy guide and the spine. Could not be more pleased. When I began our school year you had not released the spine for your biology study. I made other plans but will be jumping into your biology in the next two terms!! Perfect for our CM homes. Thank you!

    Reply
    1. Nicole Post author

      I’m so glad they can be of use to you, Sharyn. It’s really my whole reason for doing them. I have put so much time and effort into understanding what Mason had in mind in this subject area, and it seemed wrong not to share what I had learned.
      Enjoy!
      ~Nicole

      Reply
  3. Laurie

    I have been enjoying readin a lot of these books, my son is only in kindergarten. Right now I am reading “For the love of physics” I wish I had had this book when I was in school. Looking through all your posts, and I am excited that by the time I need high school you will have a lot, but just thinking. If you used that book as a spine would you try some of the experiments that he talks about or find others? My assumption is that this book would be enough for one term, say grade 10, but how do you sort through to find the right spine for the right year and know when to plan them. Yes, I am way ahead of myself.

    For the extra read book in 12th grade what topics does that cover or is that just an extra read in the science they are studying that term?

    Thank you for all you are doing.

    Reply
    1. Nicole Post author

      Hello Laurie, I schedule For the Love of Physics over 3 terms, when it is read 3 days a week. With the addition of a biology book read once a week, it is just the right number of pages (when words per page are taken into consideration.) I prefer not to do all 3 terms of this book back to back, however, but rather split it up over 3 years. The change of subject allows the kids a break, and approaching the subject repeatedly throughout high school helps them get more from it as they get older.

      The extra reading is typically in the area of nature. It’s read for a short time once a week (20 minutes) so it can’t be anything long. Mason used books about animals. I think something like A Sand County Almanac would be good.

      Reply
  4. Cathy

    Hello Nicole,
    I am thinking and planning for next year and your materials look very interesting. Any clue on when your next study guides will be done and which topics they will cover?

    Also, are the experiments always from the second science or do they come from the bio/nature lore studies too?

    Reply
      1. Leslie

        Looking at your schedule, does that mean physics will be available soon? If so, I will hold off and wait for the guide if you have an estimated publish date. Also, I would like to do middle school biology however I’d like a better sense of the books and supplies that would be needed (other than the main book and the guide). I am new to your site and this approach and want to get a better idea of the total expense before I dive in. Thank you!

        Reply
  5. Laura Mercon

    Will you be having a separate biology packet for HS? If not, what do you suggest for HS biology if we follow the once a week for four years plan? Thanks so much! This is an absolute seismic shift in thinking for me and is kind of scary, if I’m honest. My son is an incoming tenth grader. We had planned on traditional approach for him, but now you have me thinking!

    Reply
    1. Nicole Post author

      Laura, let me just say that the book Men, Microscopes, and Living Things and its guide, is the best start for a person of any age. I know several adults who have read it and been amazed at how much they learned. So start there. After that, I have a plan. I will post here fairly soon.
      ~Nicole

      Reply
      1. Laura Mercon

        Wonderful! I’m nervously excited to take this plunge with my son. In my heart, I feel like this is the best path, but I’m a ducks-in-a-row kind of person. I think I will take your suggestion to start there. He doesn’t like biology per se (gasp!), so I think an engaging living book will be just the thing!

        Reply
      2. Laura

        One more question! Do you have any idea which books you’ll be using for the upper levels of chem. and physics so that we don’t inadvertently use them ahead of time as additional resources? There are a few that I thought I would purchase as extra reading opportunities, but I will hold off if they will be used in the guides in the future. Thanks!

        Reply
        1. Nicole Post author

          The books I’m using I started in “Part 1” and will continue through the next two parts. Said another way, I will not use multiple books over the three terms, but rather one book for each of those subjects, spread out over three terms. They are just the right amount of page numbers based on Miss. Mason’s own programs.
          ~Nicole

          Reply
  6. Melanie

    Hi Nicole! I have so enjoyed reading your blog and listening to the Delectable Education podcasts.

    I’ve recently begun trying out the samples of your science guides with my 9th grade daughter. Things are going extremely well and we are enjoying them very much. I am loving the streams of learning over covering one subject per year.

    I am wondering about the Christian content, or lack thereof, in your science guides. Could you share a bit about your philosophy in this area and how that philosophy plays out in your science guides?

    Thanks so much for all your hard work and for sharing it with all of us.

    Blessings,
    Melanie

    Reply

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